September 8, 2011

Steuben Glass Factory to Close After Over 100 Years

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Glass art manufacturer Steuben Glass Company, which has been based in Corning, N.Y., 37 miles southwest of Ithaca, since 1903, will close in November, parent company Schottenstein Stores Corp. announced Aug. 31 in a press release.

“The difficult economy, declining sales and high expenses continue to have a negative impact on the Company’s profitability. Our employees and Local 1000 worked in cooperation with the company to change the trend but the efforts at restructuring and repositioning the brand were unsuccessful,” Mark Samitt, president of Steuben, LLC, said in a statement.

Joseph Dunning, a spokesperson for Corning, Inc., which sold Steuben to Schottenstein in 2008, said that the primary reason Steuben became unprofitable was a shift in demand. While Steuben glass has remained the same since the company shifted focus from colored glass to pure lead crystal in the 1930s, consumer tastes have changed.

“If you think about buying habits — disposable income — folks are more apt to buy computers and large screen televisions [than glass art]. That dominates a lot of discretionary spending,” Dunning said.

U.S. presidents often gave Steuben crystal to foreign heads of state as gifts, including Queen Elizabeth II of England, the Shah of Iran and Emperor Hirohito of Japan. As of 2000, over 70 countries had Steuben glass in their state collections, according to a company factsheet.

Steuben was bought by Schottenstein in 2008 from Corning, Inc., a high-tech display glass, life sciences and telecommunications manufacturer that originally purchased Steuben in 1918. According to Dunning the company retained a 20 percent share of Steuben after the sale.

“The last several years we had Steuben, it was losing money,” Dunning said. He said that another motivating factor in the sale was a desire by Corning to get rid of its consumer products holdings.

“[The sale] was basically because it no longer fit into our business model. It was a consumer products type of business, and we were no longer involved with that,” Dunning said. He noted that in 1998 Corning sold its lines of CorningWare and Corelle tableware and Pyrex cookware to World Kitchen.

In the press release, the company said its sole factory and a store, both located on the Corning Museum of Glass campus, will close Nov. 29. The company’s flagship store in New York City will close as soon as its inventory is sold, according to The Ithaca Journal. Corning, Inc., has agreed to purchase the brand name back from Schottenstein.

The closure will mean the loss of 60 jobs for the Corning community. However, Steuben union employees will be able to apply for positions at Corning, Inc., under an unspecified bidding process, according to the press release.

Steuben’s closure will not have an impact on the museum, according to Yvette Sterbenk, senior communications manager for the Corning Museum of Glass.

“The museum is not at all affected and we will continue to operate as normal,” she said. “We don’t really have any business connection.”

Sterbenk said the closure means the museum will no longer be able to offer tours of the Steuben factory, but “the reality is we haven’t had a factory tour in over 10 years.”

However, she said that the company represents a key part of the city of Corning’s history and it will be missed.

Original Author: David Marten